The National Flag of France: What You Should Know!

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What does the French flag look like? For many people this is an easy question. According to the Article 2 of the French Constitution dating from the 28 September 1958, the national emblem of France is the Tricolour flag. Blue, white, red. Interestingly there is more to tell about the national flag of France. What do the colours of the French flag stand for? And what is the meaning of the flag of France? Here are some insights on the French national flag that – I hope – will arouse your curiosity! ??


The French flag before the French Revolution

During the reign of the Valois dynasty, the royal banner consisted of three fleurs-de-lys on a blue field. The French flag looked like this:

French Flag before 1790

The French Flag before 1790

Legend has it that the Fleurs-de-Lys (lilies) originated at the baptism of Clovis in 496 AD. The first kings of the Franks would have replaced the three toads that adorned his shield with three lilies given by an angel.

In 1376, King Charles V placed the kingdom of France under the protection of the Virgin (the lily is a symbole of Mary) and the Trinity (three lilies on the arms of France).

There are many historic places in France where you can still see the three Lys-de-France on a blue background, such as in Place Stanislas, Nancy. A royal square built in the mid-18th century to the glory of Louis XV, King of France.

Place Stanislas © French Moments

The crown of the fountain of Neptune with the lys-de-France, Place Stanislas of Nancy © French Moments

And what about the flag of Quebec?

France’s Fleur-de-Lys are also an important feature in the flag of Quebec:

The flag of Quebec

The flag of Quebec

Nicknamed the Fleurdelisé (the Lily-flowered), the flag of Quebec is designed with a white cross on a blue background that originates from the royal flags of the Kingdom of France. Four white fleur-de-lis are dispatched on each side of the flag.

The Quebec flag was first shown on the 21st January 1948. Two years later, the Quebec Parliament adopted it on the 9th March 1950.


What are the French flag colours?

The present-day national flag of France features three vertical colour bands:

  • blue (HTML #0055A4 / RGB 0,85,164 / CMYK 100.89.0.0)
  • white (HTML #FFFFF / RGB 255,255,255 / CMYK 0.0.0.0)
  • red (HTML #EF4135 / RGB 239,65,53 / CMYK 0.87.60.0)

(Retrieved from: Pays-du-Monde.fr)


What does the French flag look like?

The national flag of France

The national flag of France

I took a few flag of France images in Paris:

Arc de Triomphe and giant French flag © French Moments

Arc de Triomphe and giant French flag © French Moments

The huge French flag that flies under the Arc de Triomphe is the largest. It is 9 metres by 13,50 metres.

French flag on Ecole Militaire © French Moments

The French flag on the Ecole Militaire © French Moments

French flag on Boulevard Pasteur © French Moments

The French flag on Boulevard Pasteur, Paris © French Moments

More French flag images shot in provincial France:

Glieres Plateau

The central flagpole at the Plateau des Glières (French Alps) © French Moments

Nancy Lorraine © French Moments

French flags at the City-Hall of Nancy, Lorraine © French Moments


Why did the French change their flag?

The national flag of France finds its origins in the French Revolution.

The first version of a flag was adopted in 1790 with the three stripes red-white-blue. 

Indeed, from 1790 to 1792, there was no national flag in France. The naval jack of France (a flag flown at the front of a vessel, known as the Pavillon de beaupré) was red-white-blue:

The national flag of France between 1790 and 1794

The national flag of France between 1790 and 1794

On the 15th February 1794, a decree detailed the position of the coloured stripes:

‘The banner and national flag will be composed of the three national colours, in three equal bands, the blue one being attached to the flag hilt, the white being in the middle and the red floating’.

In 1794 the Convention commissioned Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) for the new flag.


What is the meaning of the French flag?

The blue and red colours refer to the coat of arms of Paris and the white to the royalty.

The flag of Paris

The flag of Paris

There is a great deal of symbolism too!

  • For some, blue and red are the colours of the Virgin Mary, the Patron saint of France.
  • For others, blue refers to the bourgeoisie, white to the clergy and red to the nobility.
Paris Coat of arms at Carnavalet Museum © French Moments

Paris’ Coat of arms, Carnavalet Hotel, © French Moments

After the defeat of Napoleon I in 1815, the restauration of the Bourbon dynasty replaced the Tricolour by a white flag.

Royal flag of France during the Bourbon Restoration © Sodacan - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Royal flag of France during the Bourbon Restoration © Sodacan – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

In the aftermath of the July Revolution of 1830, King Louis-Philippe decided to restore the Tricolour flag. Since then, it has remained the national flag of France.

In 1976, President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing slightly modified the blue and red colours to make them lighter.


Where is the oldest French flag?

Guess where the oldest (and largest) French flag in existence is?… in England!

On the 18th February 1800 the British captured the flag from the French warship Le Généreux. The city of Norwich, England inherited the historic flag. It is still there to this day.

That French flag is the size of a tennis court. It is believed to be one of the largest known French flags with impressive dimensions: 16 metres by 8.3 metres.


Where to see the French flag today?

The national flag of France flies on all French public buildings including:

  • ministries,
  • French embassies and consulates,
  • town-halls,
  • prefectures and subprefectures buildings,
  • some museums,
  • historic sites,
  • schools, and
  • war memorials.

In French town-halls and some public buildings the European and regional flats join the national flag of France. Here in Annecy, in the historic province of Savoie:

Annecy Town-Hall © French Moments

Flags at the Annecy Town-Hall © French Moments

The French flag floating above the Grand-Palais in Paris:

French flag on Grand Palais © French Moments

The French flag on Grand Palais © French Moments

French flags at the Ministry of Justice, Place Vendôme, Paris:

French flag on Ministry of Justice © French Moments

French flag floating above the Ministry of Justice, Place Vendôme, Paris © French Moments

The national flag of France and the European flag at the Banque de France (France’s central bank) in Paris:

French flag on French Central Bank © French Moments

French and European flags at the French Central Bank © French Moments

It is quite rare to see the French flag inside a church in France… The cathedral of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides, Paris is an exception as it is the soldiers’ church:

French flag inside Church of Les Invalides © French Moments

French flag inside Church of Les Invalides © French Moments

A French flag floating above the roofs of Paris with the business district of La Défense in the background:

French flag with La Défense in the background © French Moments

The Tricolour and the European flags at the Palais Garnier, Paris’ historic opera house:

French flag on Palais de l'Opéra © French Moments

French and European flags at Palais Garnier © French Moments

The French flag floating above the Palais du Luxembourg, Seat of the French senate:

Palais du Luxembourg French Flag © French Moments

The French flag floating above the Palais du Luxembourg, seat of the French Senate © French Moments

The French flag at the town-hall of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence:

The town-hall, Place Jules Pelissier, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence © French Moments

The town-hall, Place Jules Pelissier, Saint-Rémy-de-P. © French Moments

A French flag floating at a historic house in Saint-Germain-en-Laye:

Claude Debussy House in the old town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye © French Moments

Claude Debussy House in the old town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye © French Moments


The President of the Republic and the French flag

When the President of the Republic speaks publicly on television, the French and European flags are traditionally placed behind him.

Below is a TV screen capture of President François Hollande’s speech on the 8th May 2015 for Victory in Europe Day:

And below the official portrait of President Emmanuel Macron displayed in every town-halls across France:

Emmanuel Macron President

The official portrait of French President Emmanuel Macron


The sash worn by the mayors of France

Members of Parliament and mayors wear a sash on the right shoulder with the colours of the French flag in public ceremonial events (weddings, war commemorations…).

I was fortunate to wear one of them just for the occasion of the photo!

The French mayor sash © French Moments

Me wearing the French mayor’s sash © French Moments


The French flag emoji

The flag of France emoji was added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015. It is a sequence of the ? Regional Indicator Symbol Letter F and ? Regional Indicator Symbol Letter R emojis. These display as a single emoji on supported platforms.

Here it is ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ??

Find out more about the French flag emoji!


How do we say French flag in French?

  • French Flag: Flag is “drapeau” (masculine noun) and French is “français” (adjective). To say “French Flag” ?? “drapeau français“. You can add the definite article “le” (masculine): “le drapeau français“.
  • The flag of France ?? “drapeau de la France“.
  • The Tricolour/Tricolor ?? “le Tricolore“.
  • The Blue-White-Red flag ?? “le drapeau bleu-blanc-rouge“.
  • The national flag of France ?? “le drapeau national de la France“.
  • Flag at half-staff ?? “drapeau en berne“.

What about flag desecration in France?

Flag desecration is an offense punishable in French law (fine of €7,500 and 6 months imprisonment if committed by a group).


The colours of the French flag in the sky of Paris!

The Patrouille Acrobatique de France (French Acrobatic Patrol), also known as the Patrouille de France traditionally opens the Bastille Day military parade in Paris. Each year the 9 pilots produces a plume of blue, white and red smoke in the sky of Paris.

2016 Bastille Day Parade

Bastille Day Patrouille de France Paris © XtoF – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Stationed in Salon-de-Provence, the Patrouille de France’s mission is to represent the French Air Force, and lead the ambassadorship role of French Aeronautics overseas.

Presidents Trump and Macron at DDay75 in May 2019

Presidents Trump and Macron at DDay75 in May 2019, Normandy


The French flag in painting

Flag of France images from famous paintings:

La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix, painting from 1830

Eugène Delacroix – La Liberté guidant le peuple (1830)

The Siege of Paris, by Ernest Meissonnier (1884):

Siege of Paris by Ernest Meissonier 1884

Siege of Paris by Ernest Meissonier 1884

Serment de l’Armée fait à l’Empereur après la Distribution des Aigles au Champ de Mars, 5 décembre 1804, [The Distribution of the Eagle Standards] by Jacques-Louis David (1810):

Serment de l'Armée fait à l'Empereur après la Distribution des Aigles au Champ de Mars, Jacques-Louis David 1810

Serment de l’Armée fait à l’Empereur, Jacques-Louis David 1810

L’Atelier à Marseille, by Albert Marquet (1916):

L'Atelier à Marseille, Albert Marquet 1916

L’Atelier à Marseille, Albert Marquet 1916

Terrace at Sainte-Adresse, by Claude Monet (1867):

Terrace at Sainte-Adresse, Claude Monet 1867

Terrace at Sainte-Adresse, Claude Monet 1867

La Rue Montorgueil, by Claude Monet (1878):

La Rue Montorgueil, Monet 1878

La Rue Montorgueil, Monet 1878

Rue Mosnier with Flags, by Edouard Manet (1878):

The Rue Mosnier with Flags, Edouard Manet 1878

The Rue Mosnier with Flags, Edouard Manet 1878


Which other countries have a red, white and blue flag?

You will find a great number of national flags around the world with the colours red, white and blue.

For example:

The United Kingdom

The flag of the United Kingdom

The flag of the United Kingdom

The flag is also known as the Union Jack. It consists of a superposition of three flags: the red cross of Saint George (England), the Cross of Saint Patrick (Ireland), and the Saltire of Saint Andrew (Scotland). Interestingly the Union Jack does not represent Wales. The reason is that the country was already part of the Kingdom of England when the flag was designed in 1801.

A few Commonwealth states also shares the same colours: Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tuvalu.

The United States of America

The flag of the United States

The flag of the United States

The star-Spangled Banner consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes, red alternating with white. A blue rectangle bears fifty small white stars representing the 50 states of the USA.

The US flag was flown outside the United States for the first time in Paris at the occasion of the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790 (now referred as Bastille Day). A delegation from the United States was present at the Paris celebration led by John Paul Jones, founder of the US Navy.

Other European countries who have a red, white and blue flag (which is also a common combination in Slavic countries – the Pan-Slavic colours): 

Croatia

The flag of Croatia was adopted in December 1990. It consists of three equal horizontal stripes of red, white and blue. The Coat of arms of Croatia is found in the middle of the flag.

Czech Republic

The first flag of Czechoslovakia was white and red (the colours of the flag of Bohemia) and was similar to the flag of Poland. To distinguish the Czech flag from it, a blue triangle was added in 1920.

Luxembourg

With its three horizontal stripes, it is almost identical to the flag of the Netherlands. The main differences consist of the blue stripe that displays a much lighter shade. Also, the flag is longer (proporition 3:5)

The Netherlands

This is the world’s oldest tricolour flag still in national use (1575). It is believed to have influenced the French national flag.

Iceland

Adopted in 1915, the flag of Iceland is based on the Scandinavian Cross… it is a reverse colour of the flag of Norway!

Norway

Adopted in 1921, the flag of Norway is based on the Scandinavian Cross outlined in white.

Slovakia

Adopted in September 1992, the flag of Slovakia is designed with the traditional Pan-slavic colours (red, white and blue). It includes the Slovakian arms with a dominant white cross rising above blue mountains (blue being the symbolic colour of Europe).

Russia

The flag of Russia (adopted in August 1991) is a combinaison of the three Pan-Slavic colours.

Serbia

The flag of Serbia has the same colours of the Russian flag… except that they are reversed! The three horizontal bands of red, blue and white are topped with the Coat of arms of Serbia.

Slovenia

Adopted in June 1991, the flag of Slovenia consists of white, blue and red bands with the country’s Coat of arms.


?? For more in-depth info about the national flag of France, check out the article on Wikipedia.

?? Or read this article [in French]from the official website of the French Presidency.


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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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